Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Robot receptionists, teachers assistants

Japanese schools or businesses looking for a helper with a will of steel now have another number they can call -- robot receptionists ready to work for hourly wages.

The blue and white robots, which have cat-like ears and a large video camera lens for an eye, made their debut last month as hospital workers and are now being put up for rent to take additional jobs.

The "Ubiko" robots can answer simple inquiries and hand out information, meaning they could be used as receptionists in companies or as guides in airports or train stations.

The 113-centimeter (three-foot-eight) tall robots can also help out in the classroom, said Ubiquitous Exchange Co Ltd, which is marketing Ubiko with robot maker Tmsuk Co Ltd.

"By putting these robots in schools, the robots can check out the atmosphere in the classroom, and by giving some comfort to students hopefully can prevent bullying among students," Ubiquitous Exchange spokeswoman Akiko Sakurai said.

The robot can record footage and pass it to school officials and parents to detect bullying, a problem which is causing growing concern in Japanese schools.

But the robot's wage comes to 52,500 yen (445 dollars) an hour, hardly competitive against human helpers even in a country with a shrinking population.

The company insisted that Ubiko was not overpriced when considering the advantages of putting robots in service.

"If we look at these robots as advertising and public relations businesses, the price is quite cheap, actually," Sakurai said.

Twenty companies are already on the waiting-list to receive Ubiko, she said.

Two robot assistants produced by Tmsuk made their debut last month at Aizu Central Hospital in central Japan, welcoming visitors at the entrance and answering spoken inquiries.

They can also carry luggage and escort visitors and patients to their destinations.

© 2006 AFP

Original Article